Dan and Justy Down Under


February 16, 2005

Dan or Justy

Went jungle canopy surfing this morning. After getting eaten alive by mosquitos in a driving rain in the rainforest. It's just about the most primal fear of any creature, getting eaten alive. Justy and I regressed quite a bit when faced with this prospect, and I'm not ashamed to say I thought not of the world heritage designation of this jungle, but only of retreat and licking my many mosquito wounds.

We were bundled up tight. Justine had one finger uncovered, to work her camera. The little bastards were elbowing each other for space on that finger. I would wipe my face and my hand would show multiple dead mosquitos each time. Even though they are fast buggers, they were lost in a species-wide mardi gras orgy of lust, brought on by the rain. This was no place for mammals.

We were recuited almost immediately for the zipline canopy adventure, hosted by a local rainforest canopy research team. Somehow I doubted that biologists would get all buckled in to talk to us about their research even though, if there is a country where the Indiana Jones stereotype lives, it's here in Australia. Sure enough, we had pros for the climbing aspects, even if they weren't biologists. This wasn't a bad thing, considering we were zipping around way off the ground.

They gave a good tour, too. We saw the Tassel Fern, the original plant. As in the first one. The one that started this whole "plant" craze on the land. He's the seniormost plant in the rainforest, and that's saying something. Others in the near vicinity are cycads that once were the staple for herbivorous dinosaurs.

We got to lick the ass of a green ant. Yeah, I didn't think it was such a hot idea either when I heard about it, but it turns out the green ant produces ascorbic acid (vitamin C), rather than formic acid. The aboriginals would eat them in various ways. My favorite is to boil up a whole nest (made up of tree leaves) as a palliative for a cold.

We had our old friend the Gympie Gympie pointed out to us, and got a detailed rundown on what a major bummer it is to get stung by one. The tiny cilia act like auto-injecting syringes for a potent mammalian neurotoxin. Simple movement activates them. The pain does not abate, possibly for up to a year. It is debilitating. At least one person has committed suicide rather than face another day of it. After the year, it's mostly over. Until the next time you get goosebumps. Then they activate again. Sooner or later (you'll likely beg or deal with the devil for sooner), the toxins are gone from the cilia. The problem now is that the toxins cannot be effectively processed by the lymphatic system. You are in for roughly up to 5 years of occasional pain from the lymph nodes purging themselves of this horror.

Apparently, the ganjy-boy does not grow up here. If stung, the recommended treatment is hydrochloric acid. As one guide put it, "it's gonna hurt either way. The only question is: for how long?"

We also visited the Bat House, a rescue and information resource for bats and those interested in them. The proprieter was a friendly, quite knowledgable man. I don't imagine he'd ever heard our particular greeting: "Hi! We brought our own bat."

We got to meet his bats, and they were precious. Very cute. An old-timer with still-embedded buckshot and an orphan (the mother died from the Paralysis Tick, a truly dangerous critter that no guide breathes a mention of).

Most interesting is the recent work involving the classification of the flying fox. It is distinguished from the insectivorous bats in several ways. The foxes are herbivores, they do not echo-locate, and they live in trees. This led Linnaeus to put them into the proto-primate category, several hundred years ago.

His contemporaries disagreed, based primarily on the fact that the wing structures were identical across the two kinds of bat. We got to see the wings up close, and even to touch them. They are remarkable. The bat has a flexibly webbed hand, not a real wing.

A recent accidental inquiry into the DNA of the flying fox by a biologist who specialized in the Lemur has turned up the proof for Linnaeus' wisdom. Lemurs share DNA with the flying fox to the degree of 98.5%. Humans and chimpanzees share the same amount.

This would give Australia the final piece in its natural puzzle: an indiginous primate. Although given the huge tracts of rainforest yet to be explored (hundreds of thousands of roadless acres), who knows what will be found.

This is country where campsite proprieters point out how close the crocs come. As a selling point. The trees have snakes, Lace monitor lizards (4-6') and all manner of insects. Anything that stands still, and most things that don't, are fair game. You are nothing but a potential meal here, even if you bring tourist dollars.

They gave a good tour, too. We saw the Tassel Fern, the original plant. As in the first one. The one that started this whole "plant" craze on the land. He's the seniormost plant in the rainforest, and that's saying something. Others in the near vicinity are cycads that once were the staple for herbivorous dinosaurs.

....we woke and got swarmed by mosquitos. These little suckers got at my fingers, neck, eyes and ears without hesitation. Obviously the rains have helped them strengthen their ranks. The rains felt wonderful until it combined with the incessant itching of bug bites.

Slightly beat, we entered the only pharmacy, also a general store, and mentioned this to the clerk. He quickly sold me on the 80% deet (this stuff melts plastic, kills babies and might even work on crocs) as well as an anti-itch cream. Asking us our days itinerary he also sold us on a rainforest canopy ride that was about to get under way in 10 minutes.

Our bat Vladi, has been incessant about a visit to the Bat-hospital here. These bats, aka flying-foxes, enjoy the care and rehabilitation in this bat-hospital. We got to see a 3 month old juvenile who's mother died of a parasite as well a 6 year old adult who still suffers from nerve damage caused by the shot-gun shrapnel left in his body and spine.

The bat house was wonderfully informative, and allowed us to get close to these magical creatures. And Vladi was impressed!

Itinerary Highlights
January 20: Winery Tour
21-23: Moreton Bay Diving
25: Australia Zoo
26-30: Lady Elliot Island
February 13: Diving the Yongala
15-17: Cape Tribulation + Daintree Rain Forest
17-20: Atherton Tablelands
22-28: Coral Sea Diving Liveaboard
March 11-13: OzTek Dive Conference: Sydney
14: Fly to New Zealand
20: Poor Knights Islands Diving
31: Mt. Cook
April 2-4: Queenstown
TBD: To Be Dreamed

Digital Pix Courtesy of Shimmivision.com
More Digital and Film Pix Coming Soon.